The Political Gods Bless Us With Interesting Times - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Political Gods Bless Us With Interesting Times
Members of the House of Representatives meet on Jan. 4, 2023 (CBS New York/YouTube)

The last quarter-century has witnessed three impeachments of two presidents, the greatest upset in presidential election history, parity unseen in Congress in almost a century, brinkmanship in the Senate that shifted the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court, the first non-white American president, the overturning of one of the most controversial legal precedents in U.S. history, two popular vote losers win the Electoral College, and much else largely absent in the quarter-century that preceded.

A race for House speaker to go to multiple ballots, which last occurred 100 years ago, very much fits into these interesting times. If you find yourself as much a voyeur as a participant in politics, then you find this — the second time since the presidency of James Buchanan to witness a speaker’s race go to multiple ballots — wonderfully interesting. We watch history, or at least the answer to some long-from-now trivia question, unfold before our eyes.

The longest contest for House speaker took place over the course of two months and required 133 ballots, from December of 1855 to February 1856. The Hill mentions this historical footnote, suddenly relevant to current events, but omits mention of a crucial fact: Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts, who ultimately won the speakership, served as one of the foremost leaders of the so-called Know Nothing Party, which dominated Bay State politics (and other parts of the Northeast) in its anti-slavery, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant outlook for a few years that decade. This matters because their power, the decline of the Whigs, the split of the Democrats, and the ascendance of the Republicans all pointed to a chaotic, divisive age.

We do not live in their times. But our times resemble the 1850s more than they do, say, the 1950s. Way back in the 1850s, Rep. William Richardson, a Democrat from Illinois, and not Banks — a man of many parties during his long career — led in the early balloting for speaker. The House did not want Richardson, who took a position similar to fellow Illinoisian Stephen Douglas on slavery, more than it wanted someone else, which became Banks.

Such an “anybody but” precedent bodes poorly for McCarthy, a man who some like but few love. Unlike Tip O’Neill, Newt Gingrich, or Nancy Pelosi, nobody falls on a sword for this guy. This looks like an Emperor-Has-No-Clothes moment, and McCarthy is not even the emperor.

Should he become the ruler of the House of Representatives, maybe this experience compels him to act less as a ruler and more as a representative.

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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website,   
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